Thursday, January 25, 2007

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM

Canon introduced this lens on PMA 2006 and from then on, Canon APS-C sized camera users con choose one more standard zoom lens. Last year has been full of introductions of standard zoom lenses. Besides this one, Tamron introduced 17-50 2.8, Sigma 17-70 2.8-4 Macro (I've posted a review of this one in December) and 18-50 2.8 and Tokina 16-50 2.8 which is not on the shelves yet. But Canon 17-55 2.8 IS USM has at least two advantages already on paper. Image stabilisation and USM (ultra silent motor), which ensures very fast and near silent focusing and has a manual focus override. I don't know how it compares regarding image quality, but I seriously doubt any of the 3rd party lenses can really compete with it - but ofcourse I'm not saying this as a fact, because I haven't compared them side to side, I've really only tested Sigma 17-70 which really can't compare with the Canon's although it's a fine lens (but a completely different class anyway). Image quality (of 17-55) not only amazed me, but shocked me! After the first day of testing I got home and started viewing the photos that I took and I couldn't believe a standard zoom lens could be so sharp. It was damn sharp! Sharp across the aperture range (f2.8-8) I really couldn't tell the difference between f2.8 and f8 in the center (throughout the zoom range). And that is great, finally a zoom lens that is sharp wide open. On the borders the difference between f2.8 and f8 is visible, but after all it's a reduced image circle sized lens, made for APS-C only. so border to border sharpness at wide open aperture setting can't be expected. I think this lens is visibly sharper then its bigger EF WA brothers 16-35 2.8L and 17-40 f4L. Especially wide open, there's a big difference. I think it's a bit sharper then 24-70 2.8, but I should really compare them side by side to be sure of that. But I did compare it with 50 1.8 (which is a sharp lens in the f2.8-8 range). You'll be able to read more about that comparison in one of the next posts - there are just too many photos to post them all at once. One more thing that I noticed: sharpness is not that good at close distances (portraits etc). You'll be able to check that on your own from the samples I posted below.
Vignetting is visible at f2.8 (photos of the sky etc), otherwise it's well controlled. Bokeh is also good (for this focal range and aperture size) as well as contrast and colours.
As I mentioned before it has a very fast and almost silent USM drive (ring type), including full-time manual focusing (FTM). Front element does not rotate during focusing (it has internal focusing), so polarising filter can be used easily. Filter size is 77 mm.
By using IS you can gain 3 f stops (at cost of slower shutter speeds) it works for static objects. I managed to gain 4 stops, but this is very relative since it depends on many factors - the way you hold the camera, if you have shaky hands it doesn't help and at the end the proper breathing technique can help you achieve slower shutter speed (greater f stop gain). It has no 2nd mode for panning. There's no need for shutting down IS when the camera is on a tripod (it detects the lack of motion).

Built quality is good, but for the price you pay it could be better. Since it's not an L class lens it doesn't have magnesium alloy body and it's not protected against dust and humidity. It doesn't even come with a hood lens. I really think Canon do better for the price you pay.

Here are the samples, all the images are taken with Canon 350D, except for the last one, which is taken with 400D. The next post that is going to be posted by the end of this week (17-55 vs 50 1.8) all the images were captured with Canon 400D. IS was turned off, unless written otherwise.

17 mm, f2.8-8, center and border crops

f2.8, 1/1000, 17 mm, ISO 100

f4, 1/500, 17 mm, ISO 100

f5.6, 1/250, 17 mm, ISO 100

f8, 1/125, 17 mm, ISO 100

28 mm, f2.8-8, center and border crops

f2.8, 1/100, 28 mm, ISO 100

f4, 1/500, 28 mm, ISO 100

f5.6, 1/320, 28 mm, ISO 100

f8, 1/160, 28 mm, ISO 100

55 mm, f2.8-8, center and border crops

f2.8, 1/1000, 55 mm, ISO 100

f4, 1/640, 55 mm, ISO 100

f5.6, 1/320, 55 mm, ISO 100

f8, 1/125, 55 mm, ISO 100

IS test: f11, 1/8, 55 mm, ISO 100

Bokeh: f2.8, 1/800, 55 mm,ISO 100

Below are a few portraits, you can check the shaprness on the crops. It's not as good as on longer distances, but still adequate. You can check bokeh on this shots as well.

f2.8, 1/200, 52 mm,ISO 100, IS on

f2.8, 1/200, 52 mm,ISO 100, IS on

f2.8, 1/60, 51 mm, ISO 200, IS on, flash bounced of the ceiling

f3.5, 1/200, 53 mm, ISO 200, IS on

f2.8, 1/60, 55 mm, ISO 800, IS on, postprocessed

-sharpness throughout the focal and aperture range
-very fast and almost silent AF
-IS performance

-built quality could be better regarding the high price tag
-vignetting at f2.8


Jon said...

Peter, you really ought to mention something about flare resistance. I have this lens too, and find the flare resistance to be a bit disappointing.

stlsports said...

I am looking forward to your comparison with the 50mm/1.8

Gregory said...

Hi All!

As Jon said a flare resistance should be mentioned for this lens (which is just wonderful in other respects).
Recently I’ve used to try EF85 1.2L II to find that it has just slightly reduced contrast when shooting model sitting in front of bright window. But when I switched to 17-55 I was really astonished. The contrast of the model’s face was like on the photo from a chip cell phone camera (I mean tonal details, not resolution :-)). More over, the lens even refused to AF at this illumination. First thought was my sample is defective. Now I am thinking it is just the lens specific character. I can live with this but now it is understood why it is not an L glass…

Peter Bernik said...

Unfortunately I've had it only for a week, so I couldn't be more thorough. I did test (at least what I think it is) the most important parameters; sharpness, AF speed, bokeh, colour&contrast, IS...
So in such limited period of time I didn't test the flare resistance also due to my style of shooting - I shoot portraits almost exclusively with diffuse, soft lighting. The other reason is also, that it was mostly cloudy (2 mostly sunny days, the rest of the time was cloudy and it was raining on the last two days).